DoctorM's Reviews > Orientalism
by Edward Said
by Edward Said
Yes--- in many ways, Said's "Orientalism" is a classic. And he's right about some things: Western art and literature created a whole fantasy world about "the Orient" (which included the Balkans and Russia) over the last few centuries; Western scholarship about North Africa or the Middle East or India could be (and was) used by colonial powers. But as critics (especially Bernard Lewis and Robert Irwin)have pointed out, Said took a handful of serious ideas and created his own fantasy world of "Orientalism" (destroying, as Lewis lamented, a perfectly honorable scholarly term). Said and his followers very nearly argue that any Western study of "the Orient" is invalid and nefarious from the start, and that any scholarship by Westerners is a tool of oppression and political domination. Said notoriously got the careers and beliefs of the great Orientalists of the 18th and 19th centuries wrong, and, despite some fine writing, produced in the end a book that conflated artistic and literary visions with intelligence gathered for conquest or rule and which came close to saying that only scholarship with a "correct" political message about the Middle East could ever be acceptable. A necessary read, but one that has to be complemented with a reading of Lewis' critiques and the debates between the two, and perhaps---- since the critique is from the Left ---even more so by reading Robert Irwin's "Dangerous Knowledge".
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